How To Hack Hiring

Editor’s note: Vivek Ravisankar is the co-founder of Y Combinator alumnus and TechCrunch Disrupt battlefield company HackerRank — a platform for coding contests used by programmers to hone their skills and a tool for companies to streamline their own recruiting process.

Everyone knows there’s an arms race for tech talent. Companies in every industry, not just tech, need this talent to survive.

Take banking for example. Bank of America has 263 unfilled technical jobs as of April 8. In Silicon Valley, Facebook and Amazon hire thousands of engineers every year, and 73 percent of U.S. companies expect to hire more tech talent in 2014. Yahoo alone has bought 37 companies since 2012, battling Facebook and Twitter in the acqui-hire phenomenon — companies are buying other companies to get their hands on the best tech talent. Ironically, this trend has made San Francisco the second hardest city in which to hire tech talent.

The only way this frenzied demand is beginning to be met is because engineers are creating tools that aid recruiters in the hiring process. With new sets of tools and smarter interviewing standards, our data shows tech titans are saving 70 percent to 80 percent of their time hiring talent by hiring smarter — which equates to about 1,500 hours every two months. So what are the current myths of hiring and how are innovative companies hacking the process to come out on top?

Myth #1 – It’s Stanford or Bust When Hiring The Best Coders

Talent is everywhere; it’s all about going off the beaten path. Look beyond well-known developer heavyweights like Stanford. There are a great number of universities that are graduating a consistent number of programmers equal in skill to your average Stanford grad, though the average student might not be comparable with the Ivies.

For instance, our data from India alone points to 12 schools from where a number of programmers have performed on par with students from the Ivies, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon or MIT. Schools in China like Zhejiang University and Waterloo in Canada are also producing top-tier talent. Universities like UCLA, National University of Singapore, NTU, the Middle East Technical University and Purdue are all examples of schools with a high number of enthusiastic and top-notch programmers who need to be on recruiters’ radars. Taken together, these schools are producing an untapped long tail of strong programmers that are overlooked in favor of the more famous places.

Myth #2 – The Surprise Interview Question Will Help You Find the Gems

The new world doesn’t look like the film, The Internship. Smart companies prepare candidates, ask consistent questions, and have done away with “gotcha” questions to trip up interviewees.

Examples of this evolution are everywhere; Google has abandoned its storied brainteasers because they are worthless for practical evaluation; Intel has created a dedicated candidate help desk to help give insight into their hiring process; Amazon’s former VP of tech never “tried out” new questions in his interviews. This doesn’t mean that candidates are given a chance to game the system; it means you start with a question where you can accurately measure the quality of the answer, and then you dig. Stripe even encourages you to Google around during your interview for answers, and also welcomes collaboration with interviewers to reach an answer.

For candidates, it’s equally as important to be super clear on your resume. Don’t just show what you did, emphasize the impact your work had. Google’s SVP of people operations, Laszlo Bock, urges that achievements should be descriptive. For instance, rather than saying, “I worked on the backend development team,” be specific about what you did and the value it brought: “I worked on new indexing infrastructure that reduced latency from multiple seconds to less than 10 milliseconds. This included a transactional, memcache write-through persistence layer on Google App Engine.”

Myth #3 – All You Need is a Whiteboard; Now Let’s See Some Coding Magic

Top recruiters are using new tools to find and evaluate talent. From algorithms, to public coding platforms, to open coding challenges, to candidate tracking — it’s time to get with the program and update your toolset.

Coding environments in particular need to be completely rethought. It’s the part of the interview that you’re using to quantify skill, so approach it carefully. Writing lines of code on a whiteboard or a Google Doc will absolutely skew results; the environment in which the interview is conducted should be as close to real world as possible; tools that are closer to the actual work environment give better results.

In particular, we believe it is essential to have a collaborative platform where both parties can code together beyond screensharing a text editor. So we created a platform that lets the interviewer visually demonstrate corrections or tips or introduce additional challenges. In general, analysts see this as part of a trend that is empowering the recruiter to make smarter decisions easier.

Myth #4 – When the Hire Has Been Made, Close Your Files And Move On

Seventy-five percent of job applicants never hear back from employers, and this has always puzzled me. Smart companies use each interaction with candidates to build a hiring funnel — 88 percent of software engineers apply for only two jobs in five years. Keep in touch with them!

Coding is a very scientific skill that can be tightened and sharpened with practice, and big companies are catching on. Citrix has first-time applicants sign up in their Talent Network to keep in touch later on, and Squarespace lets candidates evaluate them after the interview to get a sense of how they are perceived in hiring and also to help hire later on. It has been proven that no communication after an interview can affect a company’s bottom line, and can result in a candidate smearing the company in their personal network, making a number of people less likely to be a customer later.

Hacking the Hiring Starts in the Valley but is Spreading Beyond Tech

While Silicon Valley is leading the way, everyone is starting to realize the importance of changing their tech hiring. Sixty percent of companies surveyed globally by Deloitte are changing or have already revamped their talent acquisition strategy, and another 27 percent are considering it. It’s time to acknowledge this change and take action or risk falling behind in the race for technical talent.

What do you think about the technical hiring process? Have you ever missed out on a great candidate because of a skewed interview? There are big changes being made in the way we hire developers, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Image by Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock